Social Woes: It’s Mental Sometimes

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With a palm outstretched, “Please…dalla.” Pedestrians hear this in distressed voices daily.  This is usually utterly ignored or it may instil a helpless feeling to the passer-by. Belizean communities each have at least one person who depends on being dependent. We call them homeless, beggars, ‘kraazie’, and other names that often make them characters of our Belizean streets and culture.

A couple weeks ago, a video of a young woman street, Stephanie Lozano(38), twerking went viral. In downtown Belize City life she was a staple by the foot of the historic Swing Bridge. Her sudden death on Cemetery Street shook the memories of the usual passers-by. Humanity rushed to the forefront and sowed hindsight. ‘We could have helped her.’

In early June, Nestor Vasquez, Jr., was taken to the Port Loyola clinic and he was attended by Nurse Eligio. Vasquez, Jr. had been spending some days at the Queen Street police station since his family, and Belize, has no other recourse but to ask for him to be placed in police custody. It sounds terribly unacceptable for a society in 2019 that your option as a mental patient is a cell block made for common criminals. Many families take the other option of letting their loved one just walk the streets. Belize should be able to do better.

In a totally separate, now June 4, incident that only fate could conceive, Colin Francis parks his bike and enters the Port Loyola polyclinic and viciously stabs the aforementioned Nurse Eligio. Francis supposedly frequents the polyclinic to get medication even though he is not officially diagnosed as a mental patient. This happened at the heels of the Andrewin triple murder and shared the focus of a society in crisis.

On June 5, the headlines blared that Francis has mauled someone placed in the same jail cell at the Queen Street Police Station. The media was in a frenzy; the person now comatose is their colleague and Channel 7s news Director’s brother.

Nestor Vasquez, Jr’s eventual death as a result of negligence by police has revealed the obvious—the failure to have any facility that deals with mental patients. The Police Commissioner used his office’s powers to ‘swiftly’ interdict three policemen who were directly in charge of the cell block at the time of the incident. Even the newly installed cameras and refurbishment did nothing to avert the deadly Francis attack. Are these three policemen responsible or only scapegoats in a society devoid of adequate care for our mental patients?

The appointment of an independent adjudicator could take some four months according to the commissioner. The family might sue the department of police which really might be a microcosm of our society. Frustration might have led the Police commissioner to concede that his officers might have done wrong and if the family is to sue that they do so quickly. Without missing a beat, he offered tax papers money to pay.

See!! That is what happens in everyday society. We allow other issues to hinge on and obscure the main one. Our people in need should be cared for and fast. This one should be rushed. They are sleeping right out there.

Who will deal with this iceberg that has come ashore? Or, will we just allow it to melt and disappear again into the our ocean of troubles?

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